As a young man born in and living in Pretoria South Africa, multi-billionaire Elon Musk, who is better known for pioneering the battery-operated motor concept, was shunned by the Industrial Development Corporation several times. His innovative ideas were denied financial backing so he moved to the USA for better support. The rest as we all know is history – and still in the making.
The futuristic thinker, however, took a rather skeptical and worrisome handbrake-turn when it came the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) and its benefits for society.
So, when a man like that with so much insight into technology warns of its potentially harming effects – citing its use would foster the coming of a third world war, one has to delve a little deeper into the topic.
Despite still dealing with the ravages of poverty, disease and other human imbalances such as the negative impact we have on the earth, we have crept into the age of automation. We have rapidly progressed from longer periods of Stone to Iron, Industrial, Space, technological and information ages and are now fused between the latter three.
Automation is helping business through software like ERPs that take over traditional back-office finance and operations. In the IT industry, the Internet of things (IoT), cloud services such as hosted emailing and file-storage and general Software as a Service (SaaS) has made the tasks of IT professionals effortlessly pleasing. They can now oversee and attend to more pertinent issues and tasks (hopefully not just stream movies and play games on duty), that contribute to productivity. They can now, whilst seated, perform tasks such as deploy new software, install or remove updates on multiple machines-devices simultaneously with a push of a few buttons.
In the high-risk (equities, hedge, funds, currency and now cryptos) investment scene, automation has given traders more room for better research and analysis and alleviated them from the known stresses associated with trading. For many trading houses and brokers, AI has taken over the mundane task of making and executing trades. Read a great book, The Fear Index (thriller by Robert Harris) on the use of a machine learning tool using algorithms to help a hedge fund company generate billions for its investors. Though it can lead to costly system-generated errors like the trading error a few years at Goldman Sachs cost the firm $100 million and others, it can still on a ‘micro’ level, help free human capital (individuals) from PC-related issues like stress, headaches, backaches and lack of time spent with family and friends.
In the industrial and manufacturing sectors, the advent of AI and automation creates even more of a fear and a concern due to the numbers (staffing) of redundancies it could pose when broadly introduced. But this (as per the cautionary message from Musk) would require careful planning to ensure that those blue-collars that are ‘replaced’, are compensated but also incorporated into different areas of the business. Obviously, not every task need to be automated or performed by robots. Humans are still required to check-up, inspect and perform quality checks for instance. They can also deal with inter-personal jobs that require more empathy like in call-centers, human resources or getting into corporate social responsibility projects that reach out to communities.
Most crucially, policies by governments will need to focus ever so more on job-creation and now must adopt innovative means of creating jobs or fostering and supporting entrepreneurship that embody creative destruction projects like those of Mr. Tesla/Mr. PayPal/Mr. SpaceX – which have created thousands of new jobs.
As for the use AI in weaponry and military defense systems, the less said the better because if ego-driven and vindictive politicians have access to the technology we can only protest and hope we do not end featuring in a real-life James Cameron sequel to Judgment Day.